Hurricane Fiona and Global Warming

It is hurricane season and it seems that the past few years there is one hurricane after another hitting the Carribean and eastern USA. This year Canada was not buffered from the storm. Hurricane Fiona, on September 24, 2022 was the strongest recorded hurricane to hit Canada (based on atmospheric pressure of 932.6 millibars) with winds peaking at 179km/h and waves as high as 30 metres leaving 500,000 people without power. Sadly three people died as a result of the storm: one woman in Channel-Port aux Basques was washed out to sea in her house, another man in Nova Scotia was swept out to sea and is presumed dead, and a third person died of carbon monoxide poisoning in PEI while operating an electric generator.

Worst hit was Port aux Basques NFLD where at least 20 homes were damaged or destroyed and 200 people displaced. Much of the town’s history is lost. In PEI there was severe erosion of the provinces dune system and Teacup Rock tourist attraction was destroyed. Overall the insured losses are estimated to be between $300-$700 million which would make it the costliest hurricane in Canada. Fiona

In the aftermath of Hurricane Fiona’s great destruction, Canadians will require much grit and resilience to face the rebuilding. So much of the land was swept away reshaping the coastline in some low lying areas, so decisions about where to rebuild and where not to rebuild will need to be carefully considered, as well as how to rebuild so the new buildings can better withstand the forces. Such a storm makes each of us consider how safe the location of our home is.

According to The Institute for Catastrophic Loss Reduction there are ways to make new buildings stronger to withstand hurricanes. Their website has extensive information on ways to make one’s home stronger with some suggestions being free to implement, and others costly, and they say most suggestions work when building new, as they are hard to retrofit. They have broken down their recommendations according to type of disaster and offer much detail on their website.

Our Unstable Biosphere is a Public Health Emergency

According to Andrew Lodge, a medical director in Winnipeg, who wrote an opinion piece for the CBC: “We need to face the undeniable. Fiona cannot be viewed in isolation, but instead as one data point-albeit a dramatic and calamitous one for those affected-in an inexorable trend toward an increasingly unstable biosphere. The scientific evidence is consistent; the research is wide-ranging and generated by a broad base of disciplines. We are headed toward climate upheaval. With that comes a threat to our very survival. Climate change is a public health emergency.” He adds, “According to UN Secretary-General, ‘ the disruption to our climate and our planet is already worse than we thought, and is moving faster than we predicted.'” In general Andrew Lodge recommends the Government of Canada take more urgent action.

See: OPINION/Climate Change is a Public health emergency on CBC News

Have hurricanes increased in number?

We ask ourselves, “Are there more hurricanes than there used to be?” We decided to do some research on this to get the facts, first from the NRDC The Natural Resources Defence Council, a non profit international environmental advocacy group in the USA.

The NRDC says, “While there may seem to be a growing number of hurricanes snatching headlines each year, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) does not see a general global trend toward increasing hurricane frequency over the past century. The exception is the North Atlantic, which the United Nations body notes has experienced an increase in both the frequency and intensity of its hurricanes. This is supported by the latest study from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The IPCC projects that while there might be a slight decrease in hurricane frequency globally through 2100, the storms that do make landfall are more likely to be intense—category 4 or 5—with more rain and wind.”

“How does climate change affect hurricanes?

Warmer ocean temperatures
Over the past 50-plus years, the earth’s oceans have absorbed more than 90 percent of the extra heat generated by man-made global warming, becoming warmer as a result. Since warn sea surface temperatures fuel hurricanes, a greater temperature increase means more energy, and that allows these storms to pack a bigger punch.”

Rising air temperatures
The burning of fossil fuels and other human activities have caused an estimated 1 degree Celsius (1.8 degrees Fahrenheit) of global warming since preindustrial times. Since a hotter atmosphere can hold—and then dump—more water vapor, a continued rise in air temperature is expected to result in storms that are up to 15 percent wetter for every 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit of warming, meaning an even greater capacity to generate flooding.”

Sea level rise
As the ocean warms and expands and as terrestrial glaciers and ice sheets melt, sea levels are expected to continue to rise. That increases the threat of storm surge—when powerful winds drive a wall of ocean water onto land—for coastal areas and low-lying nations. Hurricane Katrina’s 28-foot storm surge overwhelmed the levees around New Orleans in 2005, unleashing a devastating flood across much of the city.”

Longer-lasting storms
Research suggests that global warming is weakening the atmospheric currents that keep weather systems like hurricanes moving, resulting in storms that linger longer. Sluggish storms can prove disastrous—even without catastrophic winds—since they can heap tremendous amounts of rain on a region over a longer period of time. The stalling of Hurricane Harvey over Texas in 2017 as well as the slow pace of Hurricane Florence helped make them the storms with the greatest amount of rainfall in 70 years.”

“Are hurricanes getting more intense?

We may not be experiencing more storms, but we are riding out stronger ones, with heavier rainfall and more powerful winds (hence, all those news headlines). Recent research, for example, estimates that Hurricane Harvey dumped as much as 38 percent more rain than it would have without climate change. Another Harvey analysis indicates that the likelihood of a storm of its size evolved from happening once per century at the end of the 20th century to once every 16 years by 2017—again, due to climate change. Looking forward, the intensity of hurricanes that make landfall is expected to increase through the end of this century, with more category 4 and 5 storms.”

“Hurricane Prevention”

“As the evidence makes clear, the force, strength, and impact of today’s natural disasters is inextricably tied to society’s past choices. Our centuries-long reliance on dirty fossil fuels has driven the global warming trend, and we’re now experiencing the repercussions in the form of more severe weather events, including catastrophic hurricanes.”

“Of course, hurricanes are natural phenomena, and there is nothing we can do to halt any single storm in its path (though some people may try). We can, however, forgo the burning of carbon-emitting oil, coal, and gas for more efficient renewable energy options—such as wind and solar—and thereby reduce future warming and the ferocity of tomorrow’s storms.”

“And that’s a big point of the Paris Agreement, which was signed by nearly every nation on earth in 2015 and aims to curb the consequences of climate change by limiting global warming since preindustrial times to, ideally, 1.5 degrees Celsius. But getting there will require serious heavy lifting in the form of immediate, transformative global action, as the IPCC noted recently in its stark report drafted by some 270 climate scientists representing 67 countries. It will mean slashing global carbon emissions by nearly half by 2030, relative to 2010 levels, zeroing out emissions entirely by about 2050, and meeting as much as 87 percent of global energy needs with renewable sources. The alternative, as laid out by the IPCC, is clear: With a business-as-usual approach, the “extreme” weather of today will seem commonplace by tomorrow.” (NRDC at

Pakistan and other Developing Nations Need Financial Assistance to Deal with Extreme Weather Events

“As Pakistan copes with the impacts of extreme flooding, leaders in the developing world want to make financial assistance for such devastation a key topic at the upcoming global climate conference, COP27, in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt. “
“Record monsoon rains since mid-June, along with glacier melt caused by warmer-than-usual spring temperatures, caused massive floods in Pakistan that have killed at least 1,400 people and destroyed millions of homes.”
“’The impacts of climate change are becoming more serious,’ Munir Akram, the ambassador and permanent representative of Pakistan to the United Nations, told What On Earth host Laura Lynch. 
Akram, who is also the chair of the Group of 77 developing countries (G77) at the UN, wants to see the General Assembly adopt a plan to address the impacts of climate change in countries such as his.
“Developing countries are not responsible for the emissions that are causing global warming and climate change, and in order to adapt to the changes, to participate in the mitigation efforts towards the green global economy, developing countries need financial support and financial investment,” Akram said.”

“The plan would, first and foremost, see countries fulfil their longstanding promise to provide $100 billion US per year to developing countries for climate mitigation and adaptation. But even if that commitment was met, it’s not intended to cover what’s known as “loss and damage” — the costs of recovery from climate disasters such as the one Pakistan now faces. Eddy Perez, the international climate diplomacy manager at Climate Action Network Canada, said developed countries have long backed away from the issue of financial assistance for loss and damage because it leads to questions of legal liability. Perez called the floods in Pakistan shocking and “politically horrifying,” because there is no funding mechanism that countries can apply to when they’ve suffered climate-related disasters. 
“It actually exposes how in 2022 we have not yet created a system that is able to respond to the devastation that Pakistanis are experiencing with these floods,” he said.”

“Canada played a prominent role on the issue of climate finance at COP26 in Glasgow, co-writing (with Germany) a plan showing how and when developed countries will meet their commitment to deliver the promised $100 billion in climate finance. Perez believes that this year, Canada’s minister for the environment and climate change, Steven Guilbeault, could help advance the issue of financing for loss and damage for developing countries.”

Rachel Sanders for CBC What on Earth September 15, 2022

Resilience, Hope and Trees

Last word to the trees.

Just one week after the devastation and loss that Hurricane Fiona wrought on Canada’s east coast, citizens of Halifax were lining up for a tree giveaway with hope and even excitement “to regenerate what we lost in the storm,” reports CBC News piece CBC:

“….residents snapped up 500 trees in about an hour at a tree giveaway Saturday morning…There were a variety of trees, including edible fruit trees, that were available to the public on a first come, first-served basis.”

Crispin Wood, with Halifax’s urban forestry department explained that “…the new event is a result of the city’s goal to increase its tree population. Halifax said it has planted more than 3,000 trees this year in support of its urban forest plan…There are many social and health benefits to planting trees in cities.”

Showing resilience and hope and contributing to replanting Halifax’s lost tree canopy in the wake of Hurricane Fiona’s destruction seem to us to show tangible evidence of immediate social and health benefits of tree planting in action.

We will all need resilience and hope to press forward with urgency on climate action, including by making a positive difference in our personal realms, for example, by planting one tree at a time, perhaps inspired by these positive, civic-minded Haligonians.

Halifax’s 400-page Urban Forest Master Plan is accessible here: